Home » Archives

Sets, stars, location: Reel tourism here to stay

Shikhar for Thums Up?

Sex. Bollywood. Cricket. This is the pecking order, southbound, of the top-three ever-popular activities of national India. Signals and stress might have come in the way but sex continues to rule the roost – and outside of it too; for we never give up. Though our cricketers today do everything else but play cricket – sing, act, dance, modelling, race bikes and run restaurants – we love them unconditionally for that tsunami-knock that comes with the frequency of well, the tsunami. Our lives are indefinitely brightened up with that one stroke of brilliance or show of resilience. I can already see Shikhar Dhawan roped in by Thums Up for its ads probably with a tractor-theme.

Safely ensconced in the midst of these two bulwarks is Bollywood. (Ok, I too hate to call it ‘Bollywood’, I find it an abominable appellation, like an advance bail for all the Hollywood rip-offs we oh-so thrive on, that has come to be our sad staple and our sorry standard.) The number of movies coming out every year is going up, up, even though those making any real money are going down. Down. Still, it occupies a un-dislodge-able, un-challenged spot among the ‘top three’. Brainless entertainers, innuendo-laden masala, big budget trash, ‘horrific’ comebacks, and the more recent ‘100-crore club’…anything goes into that 150-minutes of suspended intellect and stillborn logic in dark, air-cooled halls.

Star gazing nation

There probably is a connect with our national weakness for stars (the celestial kind) that we are a country of star (two-legged) gazers and worshippers. The reason why Salman Khan resorts to a WWF retinue or Shahrukh threatening to cut a rug or Aamir to cross-dress when forced to go public. Aw come on, whom am I kidding? I started smoking – beedis, to boot – as Mammootty did in ‘Amaram’ (woven around ‘Old man and the sea’; Kerala film industry is called ‘Mollywood’; see my earlier wisdom on advance bails and rip-offs). So, after the ‘star pilgrimage circuit’, the teen-dham, of Galaxy-Jalsa-Mannat, we the star-gazers turn our attention towards star offices – the film sets, locations and shoots, even a mock one will do. What if you can’t go to the Alps, you have Andhra. What if nobody knows – especially Rishi Kapoor – where Ranbir is, you might still bump into him at the Lonavala leg of the ‘Bollywood tour package’.

Ramoji Film City – cinema is just one

“Three rounds to the right, your marriage will happen fast.” Venkatesh’s eyes glinted in mischief over what was next in line: “Three rounds to the left, divorce will also happen fast.” Those among the tourists who had been married longest laughed hardest; impossible things could be very funny. The younger lot acknowledged the humour with polite laughter while the newly-married ones looked at each other as if gauging who would go first, left.

The Best of Venkatesh

I was with some 30 others including Filipinos and Ethiopians, Chinese and Indians in a Best-ish bus that picked us up from the entrance of the Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad outskirts for the half-day tour. Venkatesh, a sprightly Andhra lad with a merry girth – it chuckled with him – was our guide who spoke through a battery-operated speaker that gave his voice a she-robotic trill. A short round trip through the sprawling 1666 acres – certified largest in the world by the Guinness Book – we were at the Angel Fountain where we were enlightened about the reverse phera. As Venkatesh droned on, we wound our way up through gusts of summer simoom, amidst facades of elegant Victorian cottages, state prisons, airports and kingly durbars. “Everyone busy counting money from India.” Venkatesh was unsparing of the empty Swiss Bank patio.

Soon it was time for Venkatesh to leave for the next lot for tourists who would LOL on his tried and tested lines. The rest of us were left to lunch on spicy Hyderabadi biriyani washed down with Thums Up; surrounded by excited Telugu chatter – somebody had seen Mahesh Babu pass by in a Mercedes; Nagarjuna smiled at another; a third informed officiously that both the superstars were abroad – in Singapore and Dubai, to be precise.

An airplane cabin at RFC

After lunch there were a few free – bundled with the entry fee – and paid-for rides, mostly a kiddy-squeal. Part out of curiosity and in part to escape from the heat, I got in for a 4D show. The apocalypse on the screen was bringing down the Film City itself and I was in a helicopter which was spiralling down trailing smoke. As I crashed through a fount, real water sprayed on me which I gathered to be the fourth dimension. I was already hoping the much-touted Wild West show would be well, more, adult. I should have known better – I can’t sit through a re-run of Django even for my daddy. Still the pyrotechniques and daredevilry of the stuntmen made the stage-set spaghetti western a crowd-puller.

The Good, Bad, Ugly show

I must have spent the longest in the butterfly garden; largely because I was spying on honeymooning couples who were making my lonely existence miserable. Even so, the garden is indeed a delight and huge vibyor-wings flap right across your face like living a love scene from Avatar. Next was the Japanese pagoda where I imagined to life many scenes from Pico Iyer’s The Lady and the Monk; there were many candidates for the lady, however nobody seemed to be interested in the monk.

Bollywood tour: Peek and pose, if possible

At the outset, I confess I haven’t done this one. Yet. Then, would I do it? Only if I am promised certain activities and not ‘if possibled’. To make my case, I will take you through two of these possibilities listed by one tour company:

• If possible peek into a film star’s make-up room
• If possible pose and click with some Bollywood stars

Star attraction: Jalsa

See, standing outside Jalsa hoping to see Amitabh Bachchan is as possible as bumping into Hannibal Lecter at a salad bar; even at this age the superstar is among the busiest in the pack. Now asking me to do a peek-a-boo into a vanity van! Gawd, What am I? A TMZ reporter? Don’t mind if the van is Peecee’s though. But seriously, the Bollywood tours are in great demand: for many foreigners as well as long-ago Indians the first taste of India is from the movies; little wonder the tour is on top of their itinerary chart (“Mom, deedee is dead. We are talking about living legends!”).

What I wanna see...

Being a nascent space, there aren’t many operators here. And among the handful, the lures are quite alike. Watching shoots, exposure to behind-the-scenes, talking to technicians, driving past star homes (the teen dham) and my favourite ‘possibilities’ above. Then, there are also some seriously out-of-the-can ones like slum tourism – although I fail to fathom how is it connected to the glitz and glam of film tourism – and reality show tours. In the latter, if you would like to see a dance or comedy reality show, you are taken to live shoots, where I am sure you will be welcome guests: no canned laughter.

As much as I am kicked about peeping into Peecee’s van, I am a bit jarred seeing a testimonial in one of the tour operator’s websites where someone had expressed fervent gratitude at the opportunity to meet ‘superstar’ Govinda.

And this was June last year.

Whatever be my take, trust me, Bollywood tourism is growing in demand; so much that the state-run Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation has also jumped into the fray where there were only two players – Bollywood Tours and Bollywood Tourism. Cricket tourism, anyone?

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.